The following appears in the March issue of Alaska Sporting Journal:
BY KRYSTIN AND BIXLER MCCLURE
The Kenai Peninsula is home to countless lakes, many of which are excellent for ice fishing. As much as we like to drive long distances in hopes of catching lunker fish, sometimes the best lake for fishing is close to home – especially when you have a baby in tow.
Our son Lynx was born in November, right on the cusp of one of the coldest winters in a few years. Sure, we’ve bundled him up like the poor kid on A Christmas Story and dragged him out onto lakes in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, but when the temperature in that area dropped to 20 below, we had to consider other options.
Down the street from our house is a lake full of rainbows and Dolly Varden of all sizes. Every now and then a 20-inch trout gets pulled from the lake, but most of the big fish cruise by your lures, skeptical of the food dangling in front of them. We have secret homemade lures that will occasionally fool a large Dolly, but the rainbows have continuously stumped us. It is a wonderfully frustrating place to fish.
A few months after Lynx was born, the Kenai Peninsula dipped into a deep cold spell and we had a hankering for some ice fishing.
SOLDOTNA AND COOPER LANDING were both 25 below and Sterling was even colder, around minus 35. Seward was a balmy zero degrees that morning when we decided to head to our local lake, our only feasible option in these temperatures. Bixler loaded up our ice fishing gear – now including a shelter with a propane heater – while I prepared the little man for the outdoor temperatures.
Lynx popped into his car seat and immediately fell asleep. A whopping five minutes later, we arrived at the lake, which was free of any signs of other anglers and coated with a fresh crust of ice. Bixler wrestled the ice fishing sled down the steep bank to the lake, while I grabbed Lynx in his carrier, a blanket covering the top to keep out the biting cold. When you have a baby to worry about, you can set up an ice shelter in a matter of seconds. Soon we had two holes drilled, a heater fired up and a baby fast asleep in his car seat in the cozy shanty.
I grabbed my favorite lure for rainbows (the last one in our box) and dropped it through the hole. Bixler grabbed his homemade rig to lure the large Dollies that overwinter in the lake and we started fishing. Immediately, I had a strike.
I had not ice fished in so long that I was caught off guard and the fish stripped my lure. I was thankful that Lynx was still too young to understand the English language, because what I said afterwards would have landed him in detention if he were to repeat it at school.
Frustrated, I thumbed through the tackle box to find something else. When I made my selection, Lynx was starting to stir. In the cramped quarters of the shanty, I stripped off his layers to change his diaper and started to feed him after I redressed him. Bixler handed me my rigged rod and I fished while I fed Lynx.
As usual, a large rainbow lazily checked out my lure then headed towards Bixler’s hole. I whispered my sighting to Bixler, who saw the same rainbow swim off after ignoring his homemade rig too.
“I wish I could catch one of those giant fish!” Bixler grumbled.
“Me too,” I said. “It is so frustrating to see them swim by all day long.”
I PUT LYNX BACK in his car seat after he finished feeding and he stared at me with ennui. I started to tell him about the amazing luck we had at this lake last year at around the same time. Seward was in the midst of a warm winter and this lake was a sloppy mess with a few inches of water over 12 inches of ice. The water was oddly murky and I was using the lure I had just lost. That day I’d caught a respectable-sized rainbow and Dolly Varden back-to-back. The story was enough to lull Lynx back to sleep right before Bixler yelled “Fish on!”
I reeled up my rod and helped center his line in the hole. We were hoping that one of the giant fish had finally nabbed our lure, but instead Bixler pulled up a decent-sized rainbow. Bixler proudly showed his catch to our sleeping baby, noting that this was his first successful ice fishing experience since birth.
I tried my hand at fishing, but unfortunately Lynx was starting to fuss. Bixler tended to him as I watched a large Dolly Varden ignore my latest lure selection. Lynx was not calming down and Bixler mentioned that he might be hungry again after thumbing through the layers to check his diaper. I grabbed him and coordinated feeding a baby while fishing, a necessary skill in Alaska. Soon I felt a familiar tap and set the hook. Lynx hardly flinched, but I had to hand the rod to Bixler to fight the fish. Another solid rainbow had taken the bait and was soon in the bucket for dinner.
I set Lynx back in his car seat. He drifted off to sleep once more as the sunlight dwindled from the Alaskan winter sky. Bixler managed to grab one more rainbow before we called it a day. He again showed the fish to Lynx, who slept through the whole explanation of rainbow trout and their deliciousness, before throwing it into the bucket.
On my last drop as Bixler started packing up, I saw both a big rainbow and lunker Dolly Varden cruise by below. I looked over at Lynx who was fast asleep, enjoying the cold and comfort of the shanty and said, “When he’s older, I think he’ll be the one who will finally catch these giant fish.” ASJ
Editor’s note: Bixler and Krystin McClure operate a Kenai-based adventure business, Seward Ocean Excursions. For more, go to sewardoceanexcursions.com.